Gifts 4 architects x architects!

It’s that time of year again, when people are fretting over what gift to give an architect. I personally have been thinking about this year’s list of suggestions, and came up with a very modest list of gifts for architects by architects.

I admire architects who pursue creative endeavors and expression outside of their profession. I suppose one of the first people who I met who did this was the late Jon-Marc Creaney. His photographs are/were inspiring. If you are not familiar with his photography, I encourage you to check it out.

I have met a couple of more architects since Jon whose creative products I have come to admire, and I think will make excellent gifts or stocking stuffers for the architect.

If you follow me on Twitter, you will know that I like to RT @Archimatects. I am a fan of the comics. In fact, I was asked by the creator to write a foreword for Volume 3, which is the latest volume of the Archimatects series. It’s about the profession of architecture – efficiently illustrated with clip art and witty dialogue. The books are available for purchase here and are currently marked down 20%! That’s a great deal! Any one, or all three of these books would make a great addition to any architect’s library.

Another architect’s work who I learned about recently is from Glasgow, Scotland. Allistar Burt is one half of Hole in My Pocket. The work that interests me are the whimsical illustrations and sense of graphic designs, which are produced as cards, posters, books, clothing, and other objects as well. Some of my favorites are the Scottish sayings featured against tartan like the one below:

And by chance, I had encountered a chocolate shop while on a holiday getaway in Portland, Maine. The chocolatier is an architect. In fact, his office is above the chocolate shop. If you have the September 2011 Architect magazine, you’ll find an article about Dean Bingham, Career Sampler. I enjoy chocolate but have only appreciated fine chocolates because of him! His truffles and flavor combinations are amazing. It’s more than just chocolate; it’s pure decadence in your mouth! Some of favorite flavors include cayenne, chocolate stout, and scotch.  I don’t think any architect who receives a box of Dean’s Sweets would complain. If anything, they will moan with delight!

And if you would like more ideas, you can also check out the suggestions from 2010 and 2009.

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A prelude…

During the last 6 months since being unemployed, I have put together cover letters with my resume and samples of my work to various job postings that I found or forwarded to me by friends. I knew getting hired during these economic times was not going to be easy. There is competition for these positions and employers are seeking a candidate that can do it all! I also noticed many positions seeking freelance architects. I kept an open mind about being a freelance architect and sought out advice and tips from architects via Twitter. In February, I accepted a small project with a previous employer to test the waters at being a freelancer. It has been an interesting experience, which I will share when the project is completed.

photo by Maxime Perron Caissy found on Stock.XCHNG

Soon after taking on a project as a freelancer, I was approached with two commissions. One is a graphic design project, and the other is a small residential interiors project. I am excited about both these projects for more than obvious reasons, which I will expand on in a future post.

I’ve also reconnected with a former colleague and friend, a great guy. When we used to work together, he was one of the people who developed an AutoCAD and drawing organization and standards that I continue to use today. He is currently, an “expert” on Revit. He teaches the program at various institutions and works for one of the large corporate architectural offices. If anybody is going to help me to accept and embrace Revit, he is that person. After speaking with him about, I have become more open-minded about the new architectural documentation platform.

In addition to trying to find a full-time position, I have been lending some of my time to giving back to the community. I volunteer at the Museum of Chinese in America. You may have read one of my posts about the current special exhibit, Chinese Puzzles. The post I wrote was of my own will. I was not influenced, solicited, or asked by MoCA. I recently met Wei Zhang and Peter Rasmussen, the curators and owners of the Chinese Puzzles exhibit who, on their own, found my post on the fascinating exhibit about Chinese puzzles. They were appreciative of my post on the exhibit, and complimented on the photography. In fact, they liked my photographs of the exhibit and of the puzzles, that they have asked me to do additional photography for them. I was flattered but you can imagine how pleased I was, too. I can add photographer as part of my repertoire of creative experience and skills.

I still want to return to a full-time position at an architectural practice but I am more than pleased to have these wonderful opportunities to develop as a self-employed architect/designer. This has been a long time coming, I suppose. I have considered it but always as moonlighting, though. It is a wonder to me how life seems unexpected at times. One minute, you’re just going about your life, your daily routine. The next minute, you find yourself lost and wondering what to do to pass the time productively. Without realizing it, the little things that you do in life and the what you say to people have an effect. And that effect has been positive for me. It has opened my eyes and my mind about possibilities, about my life, my career path. These events has helped me to realize that I can live a life that is not routine and traditional. I am curious to see how this new life as an independent architect/designer develops and how long it will last. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I’m in it for the ride and will go where it takes me. I hope you will ride shotgun with me?

**Disclaimer: I know I referred myself as an architect but please note that I have not acquired my license yet but I don’t want to deny my professional training and experience.**

Freelance architect

Based on what I have observed in the job listings for architects, it seems that the economy is starting to pick up. That’s great news! However, I noticed that many of these positions are seeking freelance architects. Despite the economy beginning to bounce back from the brink of collapse, many architecture practices do not seem confident in the economy. I don’t blame them for being cautious.

And it seems there are many freelance architects who are filling the need for temporary help while we recover from the economic and financial havoc that we have experienced for the last couple of years. The idea of being a freelance architect does not excite me however, if this is going to be the employment trend, I can not be inflexible about these employment opportunities. Understanding that this may be my future, I inquired with a few architects via Twitter about their experiences and advice. Below were some concerns and questions I had about being a freelance architect followed with responses from those who are freelance architects and self-employed architects. These architects who were kind enough to share their experiences are from the US, UK, and Canada.

One of my concerns was the type of work freelance architects would be offered. I suspect that if you are not part of the office (a full-time employee), then you would be given the less desirable parts of a project but that’s not necessarily true.

@architectmark: @lafemmearchitct #Askarch i tend not to work freelance 4 other architects (i’d b quite happy 2);I think sometimes Arch R possessive over proj

@Ask_Architect: @lafemmearchitct#freelance for other #architects sometimes – work can be anything from small parts to assistant/project arch#askarch

I was curious about why some architects became freelancers and I was surprised that many want to as opposed to a result of current economic circumstances.

@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct But because I want to ! I am my own boss, I have a few good, returning clients.
@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct Freelance fits best what I want now. I had a full-time position before. I quitted.

@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct both – Layoff last June, offered contract work w/the pools, supplement w/additional freelance for consistency.

In inquiring about being a freelance architect, a couple of the architects explained that the freelance opportunities were offered through previous employers and/or friends (who are also architects), and seems to work out for these architects.
@Ask_Architect: @lafemmearchitct so far just freelancing 4 past employers & best friend so all very open & collaborative #AskArch@architectmark
@jdg_architect@lafemmearchitct I also have a good friend which manage his own architecture practice (with employees) that happen to have work overflow from time to time.

The most important concern I had about being a freelance architect is the duration of work, rate, and payments. And this is where architects offered great advice.

@ShropsArchitect: @lafemmearchitct most of my freelance work is hourly. One may go to fixed fee as its a large role 4 big project #AskArch
@ShropsArchitect: @lafemmearchitct treat #freelance#architect work much as u might working 4 a client. brief appointment contract etc#AskArch

@ronestudioarch: @lafemmearchitct #freelance – be sure your contract outlines ONLY those services you will provide – no wiggle room – always get retainer

@architectmark: @lafemmearchitct make sure your agreement/contract for the services you’re providing is clear,especially payment!#AskArch

@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct that works – just agree on a payment timeline (1x/week, etc) & deliverables. Get a contract signed @ronestudioarch
@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct @ronestudioarch One way: estimate your time, charge a % of the total price; collect the (adjusted) balance upon completion

@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct I do set my hours, work from my office but meet at theirs and respect their schedule.
@jdg_architect: @lafemmearchitct keep in mind that it’s more expensive for architects to hire freelancers over full time employes.

Of the advice that were being offered, requesting a retainer from your architect client was something I did not consider and I think it should be. And why not? It is standard practice for an architect to request a retainer from their client. It doesn’t hurt to ask, right?

@architectmark: @lafemmearchitct i normally work on a retainer basis as so many things can change (site purchase falling thru,divorce/split,floods #AskArch

@architectderek: YES RT @lafemmearchitct: Is it standard practice for #architects to ask/get a retainer from a client on a project?#AskArch
@architectderek: @lafemmearchitct A retainer is still a good idea if it’s the 1st time you’ve worked with someone.

@simplybrinn: @lafemmearchitct @ronestudioarchretainers minimize your risk (and headache) should you get a flaky client; doesn’t have to be huge

I want to thank all the architects for their time and advice on the subject of being a freelance architect. They have opened up my eyes to the benefits and possibilities of being a freelance architect. I like the idea of setting my work hours, perhaps getting paid more than what I would have normally gotten paid, be able to dedicated some time on personal projects, and eventually become an entrepreneur. Yes, I still have concerns about being a freelance architect but I think if I put myself in a position where I have some control over my time, pay, and work with architects who I am comfortable with, I can make it a positive and amicable experience.

I also want to give a big thanks to @AskArch, a wonderful resource for both architects and non-architects should you have questions about architecture, architects, and profession. Follow them on Twitter; or tune in every Friday 1:30 pm to 5:30 pm Western European time zone.

Are you a freelance architect? Or considering freelance work as an architect? Please leave any advice you would like to share or questions you may have. Thank you.

Jon-Marc Creaney

** I found out Monday morning (November 7, 2011) that Jon-Marc Creaney passed away peacefully yesterday at 3am. He was a great guy, an architect who’s work I admired, and a photographer whose images moved me. I enjoyed our exchanges on Twitter and later via email while he recovered from his treatments with his fight against cancer. I am fortunate to have known him, and even grateful that I had an opportunity to see him. He was so young (only 40) and he had so much more life to live. It’s tragic that he has died but at least he is now at peace. **

Jon-Marc Creaney is  a young architect from Glasgow, Scotland with his own practice called GCA Architecture + Design. Jon currently has an 8 person office with projects that range from residential to institutional. Each project (as you will see for yourself) was executed with thoughtful consideration of program, location, and materiality.

I asked Jon to share his story of how he came to own his practice because I believe he had an interesting story to tell about his career development. I  have read his blogs and follow his tweets on Twitter (via @scarpadog), and I was curious about the name of the company, and his title as “Managing Director”. I was under the impression that he owned his practice. Then I came to realize with Mr. Creaney that not everyone owns their practice through conventional means.

Jon was first inspired to a career in design after watching a popular television show called, The Good Life, in which the main character quit his job as a designer of plastic toys found in cereal boxes to live a self-sufficient lifestyle. The idea of working in an office with a studio setting left Jon with a lasting impression which guided his future into architecture. Jon is the only child in his immediate family that went on to pursue a creative profession. His parents are retired educators, his father taught geography and his mother taught middle school. His siblings are also in education and one works for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) as a cameraman.

Architect as Entrepreneur

This is the announcement for “Architect as Entrepreneur” featured on La Femme Architecte where I interview architects who ventured out on their own to start their practice.

My initial motivation to create this series was my curiosity about being an entrepreneur stoked on by encouraging words from friends. I also figured that I’m probably not the only one who is curious about this subject.

Instead of reporting on the “how to” aspect of starting and running your own practice, I wanted to seek stories that will leave readers inspired. I think when an architect or designer ventures out on their own, they are making a bold move in their career. It’s an admirable trait not everyone possesses. It takes a certain kind of person to take the leap from dutiful employee to courageous employer.

I am also pleased to announce that my first interview is with Jon-Marc Creaney of GCA Architecture + Design, a practice in Glasgow, Scotland. Jon was very kind to share his story of how he rose from being another architectural employee to architect as entrepreneur. It’s not only an interesting story but an inspirational one as well. While some architects will take the easy way out in the face of possible defeat, Jon fought on for what he wanted.

Subsequent interviews and stories will be announced as they become available. If you are an architect or designer with your own practice and would like to share your rise from employee to entrepreneur, please leave a comment with your interest.

**Comments expressing candidacy will not be published.**

Thank you for your interest, and stay tuned.